"These will not be lacking," she said to herself. "My Bessie's unobtrusive goodness will soon make itself felt."
Bessie had made up her mind not to trouble about her scanty wardrobe, and she was quite happy planning the nun's-cloth dress with Christine.
But though Dr. Lambert said nothing, he thought a great deal, and the result of his cogitations was, a five-pound note was slipped into Bessie's hand the next evening.
"Go and buy yourself some finery with that," he observed quietly.
Bessie could hardly sleep that night, she was so busy spending the money in anticipation; and the very next day she was the delighted purchaser of a new spring jacket and had laid out the remainder of the five-pound note in a useful black and white tweed for daily use, and a pretty lilac cotton, and she had even eked out a pair of gloves.
Three dresses to be made; no wonder they were busy; even Mrs. Lambert was pressed into the service to sew over seams and make buttonholes.
Hatty never complained her back ached when she worked for Bessie; her thin little hands executed marvelous feats of fine workmanship; all the finer parts were intrusted to Hatty.
"I feel almost as though I were going to be married," observed Bessie, as she surveyed the fresh, dainty dresses. "I never had more than one new gown at a time. Now they are finished, and you are tired, Hatty, and you must go and lie down, like a good child."
"I am not tired, not a bit," returned Hatty touchily; "and I am going out with Ella."
Bessie held her peace. Hatty's temper had been very trying for the last three days; she had slaved for Bessie to the detriment of her health, but had worn an injured manner all the time.
She would not join in the conversation, nor understand a joking remark. When Christine laughed at her in a good-humored way, Hatty pursed up her lips, and drew herself up in a huffy manner, and would not condescend to speak a word. She even rejected Bessie's caresses and little attempts at petting. "Don't, Bessie. I must go on with my work; I wish you would leave me alone," she would say pettishly.
Bessie did leave her alone, but it made her heart ache to see the lines under Hatty's eyes, that showed she had cried herself to sleep. She knew it was unhappiness and not temper that was the cause of her irritability.
"She is ashamed of letting me know that she cannot bear me to go away," she thought. "She is trying to get the better of her selfishness, but it conquers her. I will leave her alone for a little, and then I will have it all out. I could not go away and leave her like that." For Bessie's warm, affectionate nature could not endure the thought of Hatty's pain.
"I have so much, and she has so little," she said to herself, and her pity blunted all Hatty's sharp, sarcastic little speeches and took the sting out of them. "Poor little thing! she does not mean half she says," she remarked, as a sort of apology to Christine, when Hatty had marched off with Ella.
"I don't know how you put up with her as you do," observed Christine, whose patience had been sorely exercised that morning by Hatty's tempers. "She is treating you as badly as possible. I would rather have been without her help, if I had been you; we might have had Miss Markham in for two days; that would have shamed Hatty nicely."
"I don't want to shame her, Chrissy, dear; poor little Hatty! when she has been working so beautifully, too. She is worrying herself about my going away, and that makes her cross."
"As though no one else would miss you," returned Christine stormily, for she was not quite devoid of jealousy. "But there, it is no use my talking; you will all treat Hatty as though she were a baby, and so she behaves like a spoiled child. I should like to give her a bit of my mind." And Christine tossed her pretty head and swept off the last dress, while Bessie cleared the table.
Bessie's visit was fixed for the following Tuesday, so on Sunday evening she made up her mind that the time was come for speaking to Hatty. As it happened, they were keeping house together, for the rest of the family, the servants included, had gone to church. Hatty had just settled herself in a corner of the couch, with a book in her hand, expecting that Bessie would follow her example (for the Lambert girls were all fond of reading), when a hand was suddenly interposed between her eyes and the page.
"This is our last quiet evening, Hatty, and I am going to talk instead of read, so you may as well shut up that big book."
"It takes two to talk," observed Hatty, rather crossly, "and I am not in the mood for conversation, so you had better let me go on with 'Bishop Selwyn's Life.'"
"You are not in the mood for reading either," persisted Bessie, and there was a gleam of fun in her eyes. "When you pucker up your forehead like that, I know your thoughts are not on your book. Let us have a comfortable talk instead. You have not been like yourself the last week, not a bit like my Hatty; so tell me all about it, dear, and see if I cannot make you feel better."
"No, Bessie, don't try; it is not any use, unless I jump into somebody else's body and mind. I can't make myself different. I am just Hatty, a tiresome, disagreeable, selfish little thing."
"What a lot of adjectives! I wonder they don't smother you. You are not big enough to carry so many. I think I could word that sentence better. I should just say, 'Hatty is a poor, weak little body to whom mole-hills are mountains, and the grasshopper a burden.' Does not that sound nicer?"
"Yes, if it were true," returned Hatty sorrowfully, and then her ill-humor vanished. "No, don't pet me, Bessie; I don't deserve it," as Bessie stroked her hand in a petting sort of a way. "I have been cross and ill-tempered all the week, just unbearable, as Christine said; but oh, Bessie, it seemed as though I could not help it. I was so miserable every night to think you were going away, that I could not sleep for ever so long, and then my head ached, and I felt as though I were strung on wires when I came down the next morning, and every time people laughed and said pleasant things I felt just mad, and the only relief was to show every one how disagreeable I could be."
Hatty's description of her overwrought feelings was so droll that Bessie with some difficulty refrained from laughing outright, but she knew how very real all this was to Hatty, so she exercised self-control, and said, quite gravely:
"And so you wanted to make us all miserable, too. That was hardly kind, was it, when we were all so sorry for you? I do think you have a great deal to bear, Hatty. I don't mean because you are so weak in health; that could be easily borne; but it must be so sad always to look on the dark side of things. Of course, in some sense, we all project our own shadows; but you are not content with your own proper shadow, you go poking and peering about for imaginary ones, and so you are dark all round."
"But your going away to Oatlands is not imaginary," returned Hatty piteously.
"No, you foolish child. But I hope you do not grudge me a pleasant visit. That would be a great piece of substantial selfishness on your part, of which, I trust, my Hatty would not be capable. Supposing I gave in to this ridiculous fancy and said, 'Hattie hates me to go away, so I will just stop at home, and Miss Sefton shall be disappointed.' I wonder how you would like that?"
"That would not please me, either. I am not so selfish as that. Oh, Bessie, do tell me how I am to conquer this nervous dread of losing you. It is not selfishness, for I do love to have treats; but when you go away I don't seem to take any pleasure in anything; it is all so flat and disagreeable. Sometimes I lie awake and cry when I think what I should do if you were to die. I know how silly and morbid it is, but how am I to help it?" And here Hatty broke down, and hid her face on Bessie's shoulder.
IN THE KENTISH LANES.
Bessie did not make any answer for a minute or two, but her eyes were a little dim as she heard Hatty sob.
"I must not break the bruised reed," she said to herself. "Hatty's world is a very little one; she is not strong enough to come out of herself, and take wider views; when she loves people, she loves them somehow in herself; she can't understand the freedom of an affection that can be happy in the absence of its object. I am not like Hatty; but then our natures are different, and I must not judge her. What can I say that will help her?"
"Can't you find anything to say to me, Bessie dear?"
"Plenty; but you must wait for it to come. I was just thinking for you—putting myself in your place, and trying to feel as you do."
"I was getting very low down when you spoke; it was quite creepy among the shadows. 'So this is how Hatty feels,' I said to myself, and did not like it at all."
"You would not like to be me, Bessie."
"What an ungrammatical sentence! Poor little me! I should think not; I could not breathe freely in such a confined atmosphere. Why don't you give it up and let yourself alone? I would not be only a bundle of fears and feelings if I were you."
"Oh, it is easy to talk, but it is not quite so easy to be good."
"I am not asking you to be good. We can't make ourselves good, Hatty; that lies in different hands. But why don't you look on your unhappy nature as your appointed cross, and just bear with yourself as much as you expect others to bear with you? Why not exercise the same patience as you expect to be shown to you?"
"I hardly understand you, Bessie. I ought to hate myself for my ill-temper and selfishness, ought I not?"
"It seems to me that there are two sorts of hatred, and only one of them is right. We all have two natures. Even an apostle could say, 'Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' Even St. Paul felt the two natures warring within him. How can you and I, then, expect to be exempt from this conflict?"
"Don't put yourself in the same category with me, Bessie. You have crushed your lower nature, if you ever had it."
"Oh, hush!" replied her sister, quite shocked at this. "You can't know what you are talking about." And here her voice trembled a little, for no one was more conscious of her faults and shortcomings. Bessie could remember the time when the conflict had been very hard; when her standard of duty had been lower than that she held now; when she had been as careless and indifferent as many girls of her age, until Divine guidance had led her feet into better paths; and knowing this, in her humility she could be tolerant of others.
"You do not know what you are saying, Hatty, or you would not hurt me by such a speech; it is only your love for me that blinds you. What I want to tell you is this—that you must not be so impatient; you waste all your strength in saying hard things about yourself, instead of fighting your faults. Why don't you say to yourself, 'I am a poor, weak little creature, but my Creator knows that too, and he bears with me. I cannot rid myself of my tiresome nature; it sticks to me like a Nessus shirt'—you know the old mythological story, Hatty—'but it is my cross, a horrid spiky one, so I will carry it as patiently as I can. If it is not always light, I will grope my way through the shadows; but my one prayer and my one effort shall be to prevent other people suffering through me?'"
"Oh, Bessie, that is beautiful!"
"You will find nothing else will help you to fight your bogies; do try it, darling. Be merciful to your poor little self; 'respect the possible angel in you,' as Mr. Robertson said. You will get rid of all your faults and fancies one day, as your namesake did in the river. You won't always be poor little Hatty, whose back aches, and who is so cross; there is no pain nor crossness in the lovely land where all things are new."
"Oh, if we were only there now, Bessie, you and I, safe and happy!"
"I would rather wait till my time comes. I am young and strong enough to find life beautiful. Don't be cowardly, Hatty; you want to drop behind in the march, before many a gray-haired old veteran. That is because you are weak and tired, and you fear the long journey; but you forget," and here Bessie dropped her voice reverently, "that we don't journey alone, any more than the children of Israel did in the wilderness. We also have our pillar of cloud to lead us by day, and our pillar of fire by night to give us light. Mother always said what a type of the Christian pilgrimage the story of the Israelites is; she made us go through it all with her, and I remember all she told me. Hark! I think I hear footsteps outside the window; the servants are coming in from church."
"Wait a minute, Bessie, before you let them in. You have done me so much good; you always do. I will try not to mope and vex mother and Christine while you are away." And Hatty threw her arms penitently round her sister's neck.
Bessie returned her kisses warmly, and left the room with a light heart. Her Sunday evening had not been wasted if she had given the cup of cold water in the form of tender sympathy to one of Christ's suffering little ones.
Bessie felt her words were not thrown away when she saw Hatty's brave efforts to be cheerful the next day, and how she refrained from sharp speeches to Christine; she did not even give way when Bessie bade her good-bye.
"You will remember our Sunday talk, Hatty, dear."
"I do remember it," with a quivering lip, "and I am trying to march, Bessie."
"All right, darling, and I shall soon be back, and we can keep step again. I will write you long letters, and bring you back some ferns and primrose roots," and then Bessie waved her hand to them all, and jumped in the brougham, for her father was going to take her to the station.
It must be confessed that Bessie felt a trifle dull when the train moved off, and she left her father standing on the platform. With the exception of short visits to her relatives, that were looked on in the light of duties, she had never left home before. But this feeling soon wore off, and a pleasant sense of exhilaration, not unmixed with excitement followed, as the wide tracts of country opened before her delighted eyes, green meadows and hedgerows steeped in the pure sunlight. Bessie was to be met at the station by some friend of the Seftons, as the country-bred girl knew little about London, and though a short cab drive would deposit her at Charing Cross, it would be far pleasanter for her to have an escort. Mrs. Sefton had suggested Mrs. Sinclair, and Dr. Lambert had been much relieved by her thoughtfulness.
As the train drew up to the platform Bessie jumped out, and stood eagerly looking about her for the lady whom she expected to see, and she was much surprised when a gentlemanly looking man approached her, and lifting his hat, said, with a pleasant smile:
"I believe I am addressing Miss Lambert."
"Yes, certainly; that is my name," returned Bessie, in rather an embarrassed manner.
"Ah, that is all right, and I have made no mistake. Miss Lambert, my mother is so seriously indisposed that she was unable to meet you herself, but you must allow me to offer my services instead. Now I will look after your luggage, and then I will find you a cab. Will you come with me, please? The luggage is at the other end."
"I am so sorry to trouble you," returned Bessie. "I have only one box—a black one, with 'E. L.' on the cover." And then she stood aside quietly, while Mr. Sinclair procured a porter and identified the box; and presently she found herself in a cab, with her escort seated opposite to her, questioning her politely about her journey, and pointing out different objects of interest on their way.
Bessie's brief embarrassment had soon worn off; and she chatted to her new companion in her usual cheerful manner. She liked Mr. Sinclair's appearance—he looked clever, and his manners were quiet and well bred. He did not seem young; Edna had told her that he was thirty but he looked quite five years older.
"I wonder how you recognized me so quickly?" Bessie observed presently.
"It was not very difficult to identify you," he returned quietly. "I saw a young lady who seemed rather strange to her surroundings, and who was evidently, by her attitude, expecting some one. I could tell at once you were not a Londoner."
"I am afraid I must have looked very countrified," returned Bessie, in an amused tone.
"Pardon me, I meant no such invidious comparison. People from the country have an air of greater freshness about them, that is all. You live at Cliffe, do you not? I was never there, but it is rather an interesting place, is it not?"
"I think it a dear place," returned Bessie enthusiastically; "but then it is my home, so I am not unprejudiced. It is very unlike other places. The streets are so steep, and some of the houses are built in such high, out-of-the-way nooks, you look up and see steps winding up the hill, and there is a big house perched up among the trees, and then another. You wonder how people care to climb up so many steps; but then, there is the view. I went over one of the houses one day, and from every window there was a perfect panorama. You could see miles away. Think what the sunsets must be from those windows!"
"You live lower down the hill, then?" with an air of polite interest.
"Yes, in such a quiet, secluded corner; but we are near the quarry woods, and there are such lovely walks. And then the bay; it is not the real open sea you know, but it is so pretty; and we sit on the rocks sometimes to watch the sunset. Oh, I should not like to live anywhere else!"
"Not in London, for example?"
"Oh, no, not for worlds! It is very amusing to watch the people, but one seems to have no room to breathe freely."
"We are pretty crowded, certainly," returned Mr. Sinclair; "but some of us would not care to live anywhere else, and I confess I am one of those people. The country is all very well for a month or two, but to a Londoner it is a sort of stagnation. Men like myself prefer to be at the heart of things—to live close to the centre of activity. London is the nucleus of England; not only the seat of government, but the focus of intellect, of art, of culture, of all that makes life worth living; and please do not put me down as a cockney, Miss Lambert, if I confess that I love these crowded streets. I am a lawyer, you know, and human nature is my study."
"I quite understand you," returned Bessie, with the bright intelligence that was natural to her. She was beginning to think Edna a fortunate girl. "There must be more in her than I thought, or this clever man would not have chosen her," she said to herself; for Bessie, in her girlish innocence, knew little of the law of opposites, or how an intellectual or scientific man will sometimes select for his life companion a woman of only ordinary intelligence, who will, nevertheless, adorn her husband's home by her simple domestic virtues. A wife does not need to be a moral whetstone to sharpen her husband's wits by the fireside, neither would it enhance his happiness to find her filling reams of foolscap paper with choice specimens of prose and poetry; intelligent sympathy with his work is all he demands, and a loving, restful companion, who will soothe his hours of depression, who is never too weary or self-absorbed to listen to the story of his successes or failures.
"I shall be down at The Grange in a week or two—that is, if my mother be better; and then I hope we shall renew our acquaintance," were Mr. Sinclair's parting words as he took leave of Bessie; and Bessie sincerely echoed this wish.
"He is the sort of a man father would like," she thought, as the train moved slowly out of the station.
This was paying a great compliment to Mr. Sinclair, for Dr. Lambert was rather severe on the young men of the day. "I don't know what has come to them," he would remark irritably; "young men nowadays call their father 'governor,' and speak to him as though he were their equal in age. There is no respect shown to elders. A brainless young puppy will contradict a man twice his age, and there is not even the same courtesy shown to the weaker sex either. I have heard young men and young women—young ladies, I suppose I ought to say—who address each other in a 'hail-fellow-well-met' sort of manner, but what can you expect," in a disgusted tone, "when the girls talk slang, and ape their young brothers? I think the 'sweet madame' of our great-grandmothers' times preferable to these slipshod manners. I would rather see our girls live and die in single blessedness than marry one of those fellows."
"Father, we don't want to marry any one, unless he is as nice as you," replied Christine, on overhearing this tirade, and Bessie had indorsed this speech.
It was rather late in the afternoon when Bessie reached her destination, and she was feeling somewhat weary and dusty as she stood on the platform beside her box. The little station was empty, but as Bessie was waiting to question the porter, a man-servant came up to her and touched his hat.
"Miss Sefton is outside with the pony-carriage," he said civilly. "I will look after the luggage, ma'am—there is a cart waiting for it."
"Oh, thank you!" returned Bessie, and she went quickly through the little waiting-room. A young man in knickerbockers, with a couple of large sporting dogs, was talking to the station-master, and looked after her as she passed; but Bessie did not notice him particularly; her eyes were fixed on the road, and on a pony-carriage drawn up under the trees. Miss Sefton waved her whip when she saw Bessie, and drove quickly up to the door. She looked prettier than ever in her dark-blue cambric and large shady hat.
"How do you do, Miss Lambert? I am delighted to see you again. How punctual you are. Jump in. Ford will look after your luggage. This is a very different meeting, is it not, from our last? No snow about, but a very hot sun for June. Where is your sunshade? You will want it. Yes, that is right; put it up—my hat shades me. Now then, Ford, are you ready? Go on, Jack. What are you about, Jill? Are not my ponies pretty, Miss Lambert? Richard gave them to me last birthday, but I am afraid I plagued him a good deal beforehand to provoke such unusual generosity. There is nothing like teasing when you want a thing."
Bessie smiled, but remained silent; she was tired, and not quite inclined for repartee. They had turned into a long, lovely lane, so narrow that no vehicle could have passed them, and the thick hedgerows were full of pink and white briar roses and other wild flowers; on either side lay hop fields. Bessie uttered a delighted exclamation.
"Yes, I told you you would admire our Kentish lanes. They are pretty now, but in the winter they are not quite so pleasant. Well, did Mrs. Sinclair meet you, as she promised?"
"No, her son came instead; he said his mother was seriously indisposed, and unable to keep her engagement."
"Neville met you. How extremely odd! How on earth did you discover each other? Were you very much embarrassed, Miss Lambert?"
"No; it was a little strange at first, but Mr. Sinclair was very kind and pleasant, and soon put me at my ease."
"Oh, Neville always gets on with ladies; there is certainly no fault to find with him in that respect. His civility is natural to him; he is just as polite to an old woman with a market basket and a few apples tied up in a blue spotted handkerchief as he is to a lady whose dress has been made by Worth."
"I call that true politeness," returned Bessie warmly.
"There is not much of the precious commodity to be found in our days; the young men one meets in society are not cut after that pattern. And so Mrs. Sinclair is ailing again?"
"'Seriously indisposed,' was Mr. Sinclair's expression; and he looked rather grave, I thought."
"My dear creature, Neville always looks grave, as though he were engaged in a criminal investigation. He is a barrister, you see, and he troubles himself if his mother's finger aches. The dear old lady is always ailing, more or less, but there is never much the matter—a creaking door; you know the sort; only Neville always makes the worst of it. Now, look here, Miss Lambert, that is what we call the village—just those few cottages and the inn; there is not even a church; we have to walk over to Melton, a mile and a half away. Isn't that pond pretty, with the ducks on it? and there is a flock of geese. Now we have only to turn down this road and there is The Grange." And as Miss Sefton pointed with her whip, Bessie saw the outlines of a large red house between the trees.
AT THE GRANGE.
As Miss Sefton spoke the lane widened before them, and the hedgerows gave place to a short avenue of elms, the sunlight filtering through the thick interlaced branches, and throwing quivering shadows on the white road below; a low white gate opened into a meadow where some cattle were grazing, and on the right hand side was a large, straggling red house, with picturesque stables half smothered in ivy. The hall door stood open and a fine Scotch deerhound lay basking in the afternoon sun; he roused himself lazily as the pony carriage stopped before the door, and as Bessie alighted he came up to her wagging his tail slowly, and put his long, slender nose into her hand.
"What a beautiful creature!" exclaimed Bessie, who was exceedingly fond of all dumb animals. "Look how friendly he is, as though he were welcoming me to The Grange."
Miss Sefton, who was patting the sleek sides of Jack and Jill, looked round carelessly.
"Mac is a good old dog, but he is not always so amiable to strangers; he has his likes and dislikes, as we humans have, only I must tell Richard that he has taken to you—he is his property. Now let us go and find mamma." And Edna locked her arm in Bessie's, and, followed closely by the deerhound, led her into the house.
There was no servant in attendance; a strange hush and stillness seemed to pervade the place. Bessie almost felt oppressed by it. The hall was large and dark, with a smooth, slippery floor, and was panelled in dark oak; oak settles and large carved antique cabinets were ranged round the walls. The great fireplace was filled with green boughs, and a tiger skin, with a huge grinning head and eyes, lay before it. The quiet little country girl had never seen such a hall in her life.
"Take care; our oak floors are slippery to people who are unused to them," observed Edna. "Mamma is in the drawing-room, I suppose." And she opened the door and ushered her companion into a handsome room, with three windows opening on to a lawn. A lady, who was sitting on a couch reading, rose as she perceived the two girls, and crossed the room with a slow, stately step.
"Mamma, I have brought Miss Lambert."
"I am very glad to see her, Edna. My dear," taking Bessie's hand, and kissing her cheek, "you are very welcome for your father's sake."
"Thank you," returned Bessie, with unusual shyness, for Mrs. Sefton's stateliness rather awed her. Both her words and her manner were kind; nevertheless, Bessie found it difficult to respond; even when Mrs. Sefton had established her in the corner of the couch, and was questioning her with polite interest about her journey, she found herself answering in almost monosyllabic replies, as though she were tongue-tied.
"I cannot tell what came over me," she wrote the next day to her mother; "I never felt so bashful and stupid in my life; and yet Mrs. Sefton was most kind and considerate, only her graciousness seemed to crush me. She is very handsome, far handsomer than her daughter, slightly stout, but such a grand looking figure; Miss Sefton and I look like pygmies beside her; but there is one thing that strikes me about her—a sort of hardness when she is not speaking. I never saw a mouth closed so tightly; and then there is no rest in her face. I could not help thinking about father's story as I looked at her; it is not the face of a happy woman. I can imagine that disappointment in her husband has hardened her. I admire her very much; she fascinates and yet repels me, but I do not think I could love her very much. Miss Sefton does, but then her mother dotes on her."
Bessie was devoutly wishing herself at home during that first quarter of an hour, but after a few minutes Mrs. Sefton's questions ceased, and she touched a silver-mounted gong beside her, and almost as though by magic the door was thrown noiselessly back, and the butler entered with the tea-tray, followed by a footman in smart livery. Bessie wondered what her mother would have thought of the delicate Worcester china that was placed on a low table beside Mrs. Sefton, while a second table was quickly covered with bread and butter and dainty-looking cakes. Edna had thrown off her hat, and had coaxed Bessie to do the same; then she proceeded to wait on her guest. A little table was placed at Bessie's elbow, and all manner of sweet cakes forced on her. The very tea had a different flavor from her mother's tea; it was scented, fragrant, and mellow with rich country cream. Bessie sipped her tea, and crumbled her rich cake, and felt as though she were in a dream. Outside the smooth-shaven lawn stretched before the windows, there was a tennis-net up, and some balls and rackets were lying on the grass. Some comfortable wicker chairs were placed under a large elm at the bottom of the lawn.
"Do you play tennis?" asked Edna abruptly, as she noticed Bessie's eyes were wandering to the garden.
"A little; I am fond of the game, but I have not played a great deal; it takes time, and there is so much to do."
"Edna plays beautifully," observed Mrs. Sefton. "It is a fine exercise for young people, if they are moderate and do not over-exert themselves. We have some neighbors, the Athertons, who come in nearly every day to practice with Edna."
"Does not your brother play with you sometimes?" asked Bessie.
"Richard? Oh, no?" And Edna's lip curled a little disdainfully. "He is far too busy to waste his time on me—he prefers playing cricket with the village lads at Melton. Bye the bye, mamma, I left Richard at the station; he said he had business with Malcolmson, and would not be home much before dinner."
"Indeed, I am sorry to hear it," returned Mrs. Sefton coldly. "Of course it was no use my warning him against any dealings with Malcolmson; Richard will go his own way; but I confess that this infatuation for Malcolmson vexes me much;" and a slight frown crossed Mrs. Sefton's white forehead.
"Was the young man with two splendid dogs that I passed in the waiting-room your brother?" asked Bessie, in some surprise.
"Yes, that was Richard," returned Edna; and she added, a little maliciously, "I can see you are a little surprised. I suppose you took him for a young farmer or gamekeeper. Richard is terribly clownish in appearance."
Bessie thought this speech was in very bad taste, but she replied quietly:
"I cannot say I noticed your brother, but one of the dogs attracted my attention, he had such a fine head; I should think Landseer would have enjoyed painting him."
"Oh, that must have been Gelert; every one admires him; I know Neville coveted him. Now we have finished tea, and I dare say you will be glad to get rid of the dust of your journey, so I will undertake to show you your room. Mamma was going to put you into the big spare room, but I insisted that you would prefer a smaller one. Was I right, Miss Lambert?"
"Perfectly right, thank you," returned Bessie, as she rose with alacrity.
Mrs. Sefton's eyes followed her curiously as she crossed the room.
"A healthy, fresh-colored country girl," she said to herself; "quite a little rustic; but she seems a nice, harmless little thing; though why Edna took such a fancy to her rather puzzles me. I thought she would take after her father, but I can see no likeness. What a handsome fellow he was—poor Herbert!—and so gentlemanly." And here Mrs. Sefton sighed; for to her it was always a perilous thing to recall the past. No woman had ever been so foolish as she; she had cast away gold for dross.
While her hostess was indulging in these heavy reflections, Bessie was uttering little staccato exclamations of delight at the sight of the room allotted her.
"What a lovely view!" she had observed, running to the window, for not only was the pretty shady garden to be seen, but some meadows, and a glimpse of a fir wood in the distance; and it all looked so cool and still, and the only objects of moving life were some white lambs feeding by their mothers, and a pretty brown foal with its dam.
"Do you think you will like your room?" asked Edna demurely; but there was a gleam of fun in her eyes as she put the question, for she had a vivid remembrance of Bessie's room at home; the strips of faded carpet, the little iron bedstead, and painted drawers; and yet it had been a haven of rest to her that night, and she had slept very sweetly on the little hard bed.
"It is far too grand for me," returned Bessie candidly. "I shall feel like a fine lady for the first time in my life." And she looked round her with admiring scrutiny, noting every detail—the wax candles and hot-house flowers on the toilet-table, the handsome wardrobe and cheval-glass, the writing-table with its dainty appendages, and the cosy-looking couch; even the brass bedstead, with its blue cretonne hangings, and frilled pillow-cases, demanded some fresh comment.
"I think it is a lovely room, and far too good for me," finished Bessie.
"All our rooms are very comfortable," was the careless response; "but one is too used to this sort of thing to notice it. Now shall I send Brandon to help you? She is our maid, and understands hair-dressing perfectly. She will help you unpack and arrange your things."
"Oh, no, thank you!" returned Bessie, in such an alarmed voice that Miss Sefton laughed; and then she continued, in rather a shamefaced manner: "You see I am not like you, Miss Sefton. I have not been used to luxuries and being waited on; we are plain people, and wait on ourselves."
"Just as you like," was the indifferent answer. "Brandon is the comfort of my life, though she is such a cross old thing. Now, Bessie—I am going to call you Bessie, and I beg you to lay aside the stiff Miss Sefton—you must tell me if I can lend you anything, or help you in any way. And you are not to trouble about making yourself smart, for we have no one coming to dinner to-day, and I shall only put on an old dress. We are in the country now, and I don't mean to waste my fine London gowns on Richard, who calls every material dimity, and never knows whether one is dressed in velvet or sackcloth."
Bessie smiled, and then asked if she might use any of the flowers on her toilet-table.
"My dear child, just look behind you," was the amused answer; and Bessie saw a breast-knot of lovely crimson roses on the writing-table. "Those are for your use to-night, but if you will let me know every morning what color you want for the evening, I will tell Brandon."
As Bessie was unpacking, she heard a faint scratching at her door, and on opening it found, to her great surprise, Mac, the deerhound, sitting on his haunches, with a very pleading look in his beautiful brown eyes.
"You may come in if you like, old fellow," she said, wondering at his sudden friendship for a stranger; and, sure enough, the hound walked in and stretched himself under the writing-table, with his nose between his paws, quietly observant of every movement.
When Bessie had finished her unpacking, she proceeded to brush out her bright, brown hair, and arrange it in her usual simple fashion. Then she put on the dress of cream-colored nun's veiling, which was cut square and trimmed with her mother's lace; and when she had clasped the pearls round her neck, and had pinned on her roses, she felt she had never been so well dressed in her life; and, indeed, the girl's freshness and sweet expression made her very pleasant to look upon.
Bessie was sitting at the window thinking of Hatty when Edna entered, looking like a young princess to her dazzled eyes. The old gown proved to be a delicate blue silk, and was trimmed in a costly fashion, and she wore at her throat a locket with a diamond star. As she came sweeping into the room, with her long train and fair coronet of hair, she looked so graceful and so handsome that Bessie uttered an admiring exclamation.
"Oh, don't look at me!" observed Edna rather pettishly. "I have told Brandon I really must discard this gown; it is getting too bad even for quiet evenings."
"I think it lovely," returned Bessie, much surprised at this remark. "I thought it was quite new."
"Oh, no; it is nearly a year old, quite a patriarch in gowns; and, besides, I am getting so tired of blue. Mamma likes me best in white, and I agree with her; but you look very nice, Bessie, more like a crimson-tipped Daisy than ever. You remind me so of a daisy—a humble little modest, bright-eyed thing."
"Thank you, Miss Sefton," returned Bessie, blushing at such an unexpected compliment. "I think I must tell Hatty that."
"Hatty! Oh, you mean the little pale-faced sister with the clever eyes. Now, what did I say to you? That I preferred Edna to Miss Sefton. Oh, there goes the second gong, and Richard has only just come in. Mamma will be so vexed at his unpunctuality. Why, I declare if Mac has not taken up his quarters under your table. I suppose he approves of Miss Daisy as much as I do."
Edna chatted after this fashion as she tripped down the oak staircase, while Bessie followed her more slowly. They found Mrs. Sefton in a somewhat ruffled mood. She looked handsomer than ever in her gray silk dress; her hands were blazing with diamond rings, her dark hair was still unmixed with gray, and hardly needed the lace cap that covered it.
"Richard has only just come in, mamma; need we wait for him?"
"It is our duty to wait for the master of the house, Edna, however much we are inconvenienced by the delay." And Mrs. Sefton fanned herself with a dissatisfied expression. "Your brother never thinks of our comfort, as long as he is engrossed with his own occupations. I must apologize to you, Miss Lambert, for our unpunctuality. I am sure, after such a journey, you must need your dinner."
"I am not at all hungry, thank you," replied Bessie, whose appetite was not stimulated by her hostess' aggrieved remarks. She sat literally on thorns during the next five minutes, while Mrs. Sefton fanned herself, and Edna walked up and down the room, humming snatches of songs, and then breaking off into a sarcastic observation on the length of Richard's toilet.
"I shall expect great results," she was just saying, as the door opened, and a tall, broad-shouldered young man advanced rather awkwardly into the room.
"I am afraid I am late again, mother," he began apologetically; but Mrs. Sefton apparently took no notice of this remark, except by a slight shrug of her shoulders.
"We have been waiting half an hour," broke in Edna, with a pout. "You get worse and worse, Richard. Now, will you take in my friend, Miss Lambert? and mamma and I will follow."
Bessie rose at once, as Mr. Sefton offered his arm, but beyond a stiff bow he took no further notice of her. His face wore a moody expression as they seated themselves at the table. His reception had evidently damped him.
Bessie glanced at him. Richard Sefton was certainly not handsome; his features were rather heavily molded; he had a reddish mustache that hid his mouth, and closely cropped hair of the same color. His evening dress set rather awkwardly on him, and he had looked far better in his tweed coat and knickerbockers. Bessie was obliged to confess that Edna had been right in her description; there was something clownish about his appearance, and yet he looked a gentleman.
"Have you nothing to tell us, Richard?" asked Mrs. Sefton sharply, when the silence had lasted long enough.
"Nothing that will interest you," he replied, rather gloomily; and Bessie noticed that his voice was not unpleasant. "I have been with Malcolmson all the afternoon." And he looked steadily at Mrs. Sefton as he spoke.
A slight flush crossed her face, but she evidently did not trust herself to answer.
"I know our opinions differ about him," he continued, as though forcing himself to speak; "but for my part I think him a clear-headed, reliable fellow. He has done my business well, and has relieved me of a great deal of responsibility."
"I hope you will not have cause to repent your rashness, Richard," was the severe answer; but Edna, who was watching her mother's countenance with some anxiety, interfered in an airy fashion:
"Oh, pray don't begin to talk business, Richard, or you will make mamma's head ache. You know she can't bear to hear Malcolmson's name mentioned. All this is not very amusing for Miss Lambert. Can't you find something interesting to suit a young lady?"
But if Edna hoped to pose as a peacemaker, she failed signally, for a sullen look came to her brother's face, and, with the exception of a slight attention to his guest's wants, and a few remarks about her journey and the weather, Richard made no further attempt to be agreeable.
"Richard is a perfect bear!" exclaimed Edna angrily, as she threw herself into one of the wicker seats on the lawn. It was a lovely evening; the sun was just setting, and she had invited Bessie to take a stroll round the garden.
"The dews are very heavy," remonstrated her friend. "I think we had better keep to the gravel paths." And then Edna had got up from her seat, grumbling as she did so, and had again reiterated her opinion that Richard was a bear.
"I think something must have put him out," returned Bessie, who was always prompt in defence of the absent. "He did not look quite happy."
"That was because mamma was so vexed about his unpunctuality, and about Malcolmson. Richard hates to vex her, and when she looks at him like that he always becomes gloomy and morose. I have known him silent for days, when they have fallen out about something. I am taking you behind the scenes, Bessie, but all our friends know that mamma and Richard do not agree. You see, mamma is very clever, and she likes managing, and Richard has a will of his own; he is very tenacious of his own opinions, and when he has got an idea into his head he can be as stubborn as a mule."
"Don't you think a man has a right to his own opinion, Edna?"
Edna pursed up her lips.
"A man like Neville, perhaps, who is clever and knows the world; but Richard is a perfect child in some things. He ought to be reasonable, and allow mamma to have her way. Now, she dislikes Malcolmson—she does not believe in him; and Richard, as you hear, swears by him."
"Who is Mr. Malcolmson, if I may venture to ask?"
"Oh, he is an ugly, scrubby little Scotchman whom Richard means to take as a sort of bailiff, or overseer, or something; I don't understand what."
"Your brother farms himself, does he not?"
"Yes, he has a large farm; and then there is the brewery, a few miles off, and he wants Malcolmson for that. Mamma is disgusted, because she wanted Richard to take a protege of her own—such an interesting young fellow, and so poor, with a widowed mother and two or three young sisters; and my lord won't look at him."
"Perhaps he has his reasons for declining him."
"No, it is just his obstinacy; he will not allow mamma to interfere in his business. He thinks she ought to keep to her own department, and leave him to manage his own concerns; but mamma can't see it; she has been used to rule, and she is always offended when he refuses to take her advice."
"What a pity!" observed Bessie. "I think people in one house ought to be of one mind."
"My dear Daisy, your golden rule won't hold at The Grange. No one thinks alike in this house; mamma and I dote on each other, but we do not always agree; she makes me cry my eyes out sometimes. And as for Neville, as I told you, we have not an idea in common. I think perfect agreement must be rather monotonous and deadening. I am sure if Neville were to say to me, 'My dear Edna, you are always right, and I agree with you in everything,' I should be ready to box his ears. It is much more amusing to quarrel half a dozen times a day, and make it up again. Oh, I do dearly love to provoke Neville; he looks so deliciously bored and grave."
Bessie was at a loss how to answer this extraordinary statement, but Edna gave her no time to collect her ideas.
"Quarrelling with Richard is poor fun," she went on; "he hasn't the wit to retaliate, but just sits glum as you saw him to-night. I mean to tell Master Richard, though, that his manners were worse than usual, for he actually did not open his lips to his guest, although she was a stranger."
"Indeed you are wrong," returned Bessie eagerly. "You are doing your brother an injustice; he spoke to me several times, and made remarks about the weather and my journey. I was just describing Cliffe to him when your mother gave us the signal to rise."
"What a brilliant conversation!" observed Edna sarcastically. "Well, I will prove to you that Richard is in his sulks, for he won't enter the drawing-room again to-night; and if he did," she added, laughing, "mamma would not speak to him, so it is just as well for him to absent himself. Now let us go in, and I will sing to you. When people are not here mamma always reads, and I sing to her."
Edna sung charmingly, and Bessie much enjoyed listening to her; and when she was tired Mrs. Sefton beckoned Bessie to her couch, and talked to her for a long time about her family.
"All this interests me; I like to hear your simple descriptions, my child," she said, when Edna interrupted them by reminding her mother of the lateness of the hour. "Now you must go to bed." And she dismissed her with another kiss and a kindly good-night.
As the two girls went out into the hall they found Richard Sefton hanging up his cap on the peg. He wore a light overcoat over his evening dress, and had evidently spent his evening out.
"Good-night, Richard," observed Edna, with a careless nod, as she passed him; but Bessie held out her hand with a smile.
"Good-night, Mr. Sefton. What a beautiful evening it has been!"
"Yes, and so warm," he returned cheerfully, as though the girl's smile had loosened his tongue; "it is glorious haymaking weather. I expect we shall have a fine crop in the lower meadow."
"Are you haymaking?" exclaimed Bessie, with almost childish delight. "Oh, I hope your sister will take me into the hayfield."
"I will promise anything, if only you and Richard will not turn over the haycocks now," retorted Edna, with sleepy impatience. "Do come, Bessie." And Bessie followed her obediently.
Richard Sefton looked after her as her white dress disappeared up the dark staircase.
"She seems a different sort from most of Edna's friends," he muttered, as he lighted his pipe and retired to the nondescript apartment that was called his study. "There does not seem much nonsense about her. What do you think about it, Mac?" as the hound laid his head on his knee. "I imagine, as a rule, women have a precious lot of it." And he whistled a bar from the "Miller of the Dee."
"I care for nobody, no, not I, And nobody cares for me."
"What a long evening it has been!" thought Bessie, as she leaned out of the window to enjoy the sweet June air, and to admire the lawn silvered by the moonlight.
"It seems two days at least since I left Cliffe. Oh, I hope Hatty is asleep, and not fretting!"
"I wonder if I shall be happy here," she went on. "It is all very nice—the house and the country beautiful, and Edna as delightful as possible; but there is something wanting—family union. It is so sad to hear Edna talking about her brother. He is a perfect stranger to me, and yet I took his part at once. How could the poor fellow talk and enjoy himself while Mrs. Sefton was sitting opposite to him looking like an offended tragedy queen? He had not the heart to talk; besides, he knew that in engaging that man he was going against her wishes, and so he could not feel comfortable. Edna was wrong in calling him a bear. He was not at his ease, certainly; but he anticipated all my wants, and spoke to me very nicely. But there, I must not mix myself up in family disagreements. I shall have to be civil and kind to every one; but it makes one thankful for one's peaceful home, and the dear mother and father," and the tears came into Bessie's eyes as she thought of her shielded and happy life, and the love of her sisters and Tom.
"God bless them all, and make me worthy of them!" thought the girl, with a sudden rush of tenderness for the dear ones at home.
Bessie was an early riser. Dr. Lambert had always inculcated this useful and healthy habit in his children. He would inveigh bitterly against the self-indulgence of the young people of the present day, and against the modern misuse of time. "Look at the pallid, sickly complexions of some of the girls you see," he would say. "Do they look fit to be the future mothers of Englishmen? Poor, feeble creatures, with no backbone to mention, leading unhealthy, frivolous existences. If my girls are not handsome, they shall at least be healthy; they shall learn self-control and self-guidance. Early hours will promote good appetites; plenty of exercise, fresh air and good digestion will sweeten their tempers and enliven their spirits; a clear conscience and a well-regulated mind will bring them happiness in whatever circumstances they are placed. I am not anxious for my girls to marry. I don't mean to play minor providence in their lives, as some fathers do; but I would fit them for either position, for the dignity of marriage or for the unselfish duties of the single woman."
Dr. Lambert loved to moralize to his womankind; he had a way of standing before the fire and haranguing his family—anything would serve as a text for his discourse. Some of his daughters certainly thrived on his homely prescriptions, but Hatty was the thorn in her father's side, the object of his secret anxiety and most tender care—the sickly one of his domestic flock. Hatty would never do him credit, he would say sadly; no medical skill could put color into Hatty's pale cheeks, nor cure the aches and pains and nervous fancies that harassed her youth. As Dr. Lambert watched the languid step, or dissatisfied voice, he would sigh, as though some thought oppressed him; but with all his gentleness—and he was very gentle with Hatty—he never yielded, nor suffered any one else to yield, to her wayward caprices.
"My dear," he would say, when Bessie pleaded for some little extra indulgence for Hatty, "you must not think me hard if I say distinctly 'No' to your request. You may trust me; I know Hatty better than you do. Very little would make her a confirmed invalid. It is not in our power, not in the power of any man living," continued the doctor, with emotion, "to give that poor child health; but we may help her a great deal by teaching her self-control. Half her misery proceeds from her own nervous fancies. If we can help her to overcome them, we shall do more for Hatty than if we petted and waited on her." But Bessie had always found this wise prescription of the doctor's a very difficult one.
Bessie always called the hour before breakfast her "golden hour," and by her father's advice she devoted it to some useful reading or study. In a busy house like the Lamberts', where every one put his or her shoulder to the wheel, it was not easy to secure opportunity for quiet reading or self-improvement. There was always work to be done; long walks to be taken; the constant interruption of the two school-girls; Ella's practicing to overlook; Katie's French verbs to hear; besides household tasks of all kinds. In the evenings the girls played and sung to please their father, who delighted in music; sometimes, but not often, their mother read aloud to them while they worked. It was against the family rules for one to retire into a corner with a book. In such a case the unfortunate student was hunted out, teased, pursued with questions, pelted with home witticisms, until she was glad to close her book and take up her needlework, for the Lamberts were brisk talkers, and their tongues were never silent until they were asleep, and then they talked in their dreams.
When Bessie rose early, as usual, the morning after her arrival at The Grange, she sat down by the open window, and wrote a long letter to her mother and a little note to Hatty. It was an exquisite morning; the thrushes and blackbirds, the merle and the mavis of the old English poets, were singing as though their little throats would burst with the melody, and a pair of finches in the acacia were doing their best to swell the concert; the garden looked so sunny and quiet, and such a sweet breath of newly made hay came in at the open window that Bessie at last laid down her pen. The household was stirring, but the family would not be down for half an hour, so the maid had informed her when she brought Bessie the morning cup of tea. Bessie had looked rather longingly at the pretty teapot, but her father had been so strong in his denunciations against slow poison, as he called it, imbibed on waking, that she would not yield to the temptation of tasting it, and begged for a glass of milk instead. This the maid promised to bring every morning, and as Bessie ate the bread and butter and sipped the sweet country milk, yellow with cream, she thought how much good it would do Hatty. Then she put on her hat and went softly downstairs, and finding a side door open, went out into the garden.
She thought she and the thrushes and blackbirds had it to themselves, but she was mistaken, for in turning into a shrubbery walk, skirting the meadow, she was surprised to see Richard Sefton sitting on a low bench, with Mac's head between his knees, evidently in a brown study. Bessie was sorry to disturb him, but it was too late to draw back, for Mac had already seen her, and had roused his master by his uneasy efforts to get free, and Mr. Sefton rose, with the awkward abruptness that seemed natural to him, and lifted his cap.
"Good morning, Miss Lambert. You are an early riser. My mother and Edna are hardly awake yet."
"Oh, I am always up long before this," returned Bessie, smiling at his evident astonishment, as she stooped to caress Mac, who was fawning on her.
"Mac seems to know you," he observed, noticing the dog's friendly greeting.
"It is very strange, but he seems to have taken a fancy to me," replied Bessie, and she narrated to Mac's master how the hound had pleaded for admission to her room, and had lain under her table watching her unpack.
"That is very odd," observed Richard. "Mac has never bestowed a similar mark of attention on any one but a certain homely old lady that my mother had here for a time, as a sort of charity; she had been a governess, and was very poor. Well, Mac was devoted to the old lady, and she certainly was an estimable sort of woman, but he will have nothing to say to any of Edna's fine friends, and generally keeps out of the way when they come."
"An animal's likes and dislikes are very singular," remarked Bessie, looking thoughtfully into Mac's brown eyes. "I believe Mac knows that I am a lover of dogs."
"Are you indeed, Miss Lambert? Would you like to see mine?" returned Richard quickly; and his face lighted up as he spoke. He looked younger and better than he did the previous night. His powerful, muscular figure, more conspicuous for strength than grace, showed to advantage in his tweed shooting-coat and knickerbockers, his ordinary morning costume. The look of sullen discomfort had gone, and his face looked less heavy. Bessie thought he hardly seemed his age—nine-and-twenty—and, in spite of his natural awkwardness, he had a boyish frankness of manner that pleased her.
Bessie was a shrewd little person in her way, and she already surmised that Richard Sefton was not at ease in his stepmother's presence. She found out afterward that this was the case; that in spite of his strength and manhood, he was morbidly sensitive of her opinion, and was never so conscious of his defects as when he was presiding at his own table, or playing the part of host in her drawing-room, under her critical eye. And yet Richard Sefton loved his stepmother; he had an affectionate nature, but in his heart he knew he had no cause to be grateful to her. She had made him, the lonely, motherless boy, the scapegoat of his father's deceit and wrongdoing. He had been allowed to live at The Grange on sufferance, barely tolerated by the proud girl who had been ignorant of his existence. If he had been an engaging child, with winning ways, she would soon have become interested in him, but even then Richard had been plain and awkward, with a shy, reserved nature, and a hidden strength of affection that no one, not even his father, guessed. Mrs. Sefton had first disliked, and then neglected him, until her husband died, and the power had come into Richard's hands. Since then she had altered her behavior; her interests lay in conciliating her stepson. She began by recognizing him outwardly as master, and secretly trying to dominate and guide him. But she soon found her mistake. Richard was accessible to kindness, and Mrs. Sefton could have easily ruled him by love, but he was firm against a cold, aggressive policy. Secretly he shrunk from his stepmother's sarcastic speeches and severe looks; his heart was wounded by persistent coldness and misunderstanding, but he had sufficient manliness to prove himself master, and Mrs. Sefton could not forgive this independence. Richard took her hard speeches silently, but he brooded over them in a morbid manner that resembled sullenness. Yet he would have forgiven them generously in return for one kind look or word. His stepmother had fascinated and subjugated him in his boyhood, and even in his manhood it gave him a pang to differ from her; but the truth that was in him, the real inward manhood, strengthened him for the daily conflicts of wills.
Poor Richard Sefton! But after all he was less to be pitied than the woman who found it so difficult to forgive a past wrong, and who could wreak her displeasure on the innocent.
BESSIE IS INTRODUCED TO BILL SYKES.
"Would you care to see my dogs, Miss Lambert?" asked Richard, and Bessie only hesitated for a moment.
"Very much. That is, if it will not trouble you."
"Not in the least; they are only just outside in the stable yard. Leo, our big mastiff, who gained the prize last year, is over at the farm. He is a splendid fellow, but a trifle fierce to strangers. He pulled a man down once, a tramp who was lurking about the place. Leo had got loose somehow, and he was at his throat in a moment. The poor fellow has the scar now; but I made it up to him, poor wretch."
"I should not care to go near Leo's kennel," returned Bessie, with a shudder.
"Oh, it would be all right if I were with you. I should just put my hand on your arm and say, 'A friend, Leo,' and he would be as gentle as Mac, here. Leo is my faithful servant and guardian at the farm. I always take him out for a walk on Sunday afternoons. Leo knows Sunday as well as I do. Now, we must be quick, or the gong will sound. There is no need to go through the house; this door leads to the kitchen garden, and we can reach the stables that way." And talking in this easy, friendly fashion, Richard quickly conducted Bessie down the trim gravel walks, under the apple and plum trees, and then unlocking a green door in the wall, Bessie found herself in the stable yard, where the groom was rubbing down a fine brown mare. The mare neighed as soon as she heard her master's voice, and Richard went up to her and petted her glossy sides.
"That is brown Bess," he observed. "She is a skittish young thing, and plays her pranks with every one but me; but you and I understand each other, eh, old lady?" And the mare rubbed her nose against him in a confiding manner. Bessie looked on with an earnest air of interest.
"Do you ride?" asked Richard presently.
Bessie shook her head.
"I have never been on horseback in my life; but I can imagine what a pleasure riding must be."
"What a pity!" he returned briefly. "There is nothing like it." And so saying, he unlatched a gate and ushered his guest into a small paved yard, and then, opening a door, he uttered a prolonged whistle, and yelps, and a number of dogs, small and large, rushed out upon him.
"Hi, there, Gelert! down, Juno; down, down, good dogs all." And Richard threatened them with his dogwhip.
"Is this Gelert?" asked Bessie, pointing to a fine black retriever.
"Yes; and that is Brand," patting the head of a handsome pointer. "That brown setter is Juno; she is the mother of those three puppies—fine little fellows, aren't they? Look at this curly haired one; two of them are promised to friends; they are a capital breed. Do you care for terriers, Miss Lambert? because Spot is considered a perfect beauty. Look at his coat; it is like satin."
"And that knowing little fellow, what is his name?" and Bessie pointed to a very small black and tan terrier, who sat up and begged at once.
"Oh, that is Tim; he ought by rights to be a house-dog, but he has taken a fancy to Spot, and insists on sharing his straw bed at night; they both have the run of the house by day—at least, as far as the hall and smoking-room are concerned. My mother hates dogs, and will not tolerate one in the drawing-room."
"Surely, that is not one of your dogs," exclaimed Bessie, looking with some disfavor on an ugly white mongrel, with a black patch over one eye; her attention was attracted by the creature's ugliness. Evidently he knew he was no beauty, for, after uttering a short yelp or two in the attempt to join in the chorus of sonorous barks, he had crept humbly behind Richard, and sat on his haunches, looking up at him with a pathetically meek expression.
"Oh, you mean Bill Sykes; yes, he is a pensioner of mine. Come along, Bill, and say good morning to your master."
It was impossible to describe the change that came over the dog as Richard spoke to him in this kindly fashion; his whole body quivered with pleasure as he sprung up and licked Richard's hands.
"What do you think, Miss Lambert? I found Bill one day tearing through Melton with a tin kettle tied to his tail, hunted by a pack of rascally school-boys; one of the little wretches had thrown a stone at him, and poor Bill was bleeding. I managed to stop him, somehow, and to free the poor beast from his implement of torture, and left him licking his wound by the roadside, while I caught two of the boys and thrashed them soundly. I reserved thrashing the others until a convenient season, but they all caught it. I read them a pretty lesson on cruelty to animals. Bill followed me home, and I have never parted with him since. The other dogs disdained his company at first, but now they tolerate him, and, on the whole, I think he leads a pleasant life. He knows he is of humble extraction, and so he keeps in the background, but he is a clever dog; he can walk across the yard on his hind legs—the gardener's boy taught him the trick. Now, then, Bill, walk like a gentleman." And Bill obediently rose on his hind legs and stalked across the yard with an air of dignity, followed by a fat, rollicking puppy, barking with all his might.
Bill had just received his meed of praise when the gong sounded, and they had to hurry in to breakfast. They found Edna in a bewitching white morning dress.
"I hope I am not late," observed Bessie, apologetically. "Mr. Sefton took me to see the dogs. I did so enjoy looking at them; they are such beautiful creatures."
"Yes, especially Bill Sykes," returned Edna sarcastically. "Well, there is no accounting for tastes," with a critical look at Bessie's neat blue cotton. "I never venture in the yard myself, unless I have an old ulster on. I could not put on my dress again if all those scratchy paws had been over it. Richard does not train them properly; they all spring up and nearly knock me down in their clumsy gambols."
"They are like their master, eh, Edna?" returned Richard good-humoredly. "Mother, shall I give you some ham? What time do you mean to bring Miss Lambert to the lower meadow, Edna? We shall be carrying this evening."
"Oh, you need not expect us at all," returned Edna, to Bessie's disappointment. "I quite forgot the Atherton's are coming this afternoon, to practice for to-morrow."
"I thought Miss Lambert wanted to see us make hay," observed Richard, looking at Bessie as he spoke; but she replied hastily:
"Not if your sister has other plans, Mr. Sefton, thank you all the same; I would rather do as she wishes."
"Yes, and you are fond of lawn tennis, are you not? We have a garden party to-morrow, and you ought to practice, you see. I want you to know the Athertons; they are such nice girls, Florence especially; plenty of go in them, and no nonsense."
"Yes, Florence is a sweet girl," assented her mother. "Mrs. Atherton is a sad invalid, and they are such devoted daughters. Edna, it is your day for writing to Neville, is it not? I want to send a message to Mrs. Sinclair; don't you think it would be a pretty attention if you were to write to her as well? She seems very poorly again."
"I am not inclined to pay pretty attentions to any one this morning," returned Edna, with a little laugh. "Bessie, can you amuse yourself while I do my duty to my fiance? There are plenty of books in the morning-room, and a deliciously shady seat under that big tree."
"Oh, that will be delightful," replied Bessie, to whom a book was a powerful attraction. She was some time making her selection from the well-filled bookcase, but at last fixed on some poems by Jean Ingelow, and "The Village on the Cliff," by Miss Thackeray. Bessie had read few novels in her life; Dr. Lambert disliked circulating libraries for young people, and the only novels in the house were Sir Walter Scott's and Miss Austin's, while the girls' private book shelves boasted most of Miss Yonge's, and two or three of Miss Mulock's works. Bessie had read "Elizabeth," by Miss Thackeray, at her Aunt Charlotte's house, and the charming style, the pure diction, the picturesque descriptions, and the beauty and pathos of the story made her long to read another by the same author. As Bessie retraced her steps through the hall Mac raised himself up slowly, and followed her out, and in another moment Spot and Tim flew through a side door and joined her.
Bessie never passed a pleasanter morning; her tale enthralled her, but she laid down her book occasionally to notice her dumb companions. A white Persian kitten had joined the group; she was evidently accustomed to the dogs, for she let Tim roll her over in his rough play, and only boxed his ears in return, now and then. When he got too excited, she scrambled up a may-tree, and sat licking herself in placid triumph, while the terriers barked below. Bessie was almost sorry when the quiet was invaded by Edna. Edna, who never opened a book, by her own confession, unless it were an exciting novel, looked a little disdainfully at the book Bessie had chosen.
"Oh, that old thing!" she said contemptuously; "that is not much of a story; it is about a Breton peasant, is it not? Reine, I think she was called. Oh, it was amusing enough, but I prefer something more thrilling."
"I think it lovely," returned Bessie. "It is all so sweet and sunshiny; one can smell the flowers in that studio, and the two Catherines, one so happy and charming, and the other so pathetic. All the people are so nice and good, they seem alive somehow. In other books there are wicked people, and that troubles me."
"You would not like the sort of books I read;" returned Edna, shrugging her shoulders. "There was a murder in the last; I could hardly sleep after it—some one thrown out of a train. Oh, it was deliciously horrible! I have not sent it back to Mudie; you can read it if you like."
"No, thank you," returned Bessie quietly; "it would not suit me at all. Father is very particular about what we read, and mother, too; he will not let us touch what he calls 'the sensational literature of the day'—oh, you may laugh," as Edna looked amused; "but I think father is right. He says it makes him quite unhappy to see books of this description in the hands of mere children. He is a doctor, you know, and he declares that a great deal of harm is done by overstimulating the imagination by highly wrought fiction. 'A meal of horrors can nourish no one,' he would say."
Edna chose to dispute this point, and a long and lively argument ensued between the girls until the luncheon bell silenced them.
Richard did not appear at this meal; he was taking his bread and cheese under the hedge with the haymakers, Edna explained, or in other words, he had desired his luncheon to be sent to him.
"He does not favor us much with his company, as you will soon see for yourself, Miss Lambert. My stepson is not a society man," observed Mrs. Sefton.
"So much the better," was on Bessie's lips, but she prudently refrained from speaking the words. She was beginning to wonder, however, if Mrs. Sefton or Edna could mention his name without adding something disparaging. Edna especially was forever indulging in some light sarcasm at her brother's expense.
They sat in the cool drawing-room a little while after luncheon, until the Athertons arrived with their rackets; and then they all went down to the tennis lawn.
The Atherton's were nice-looking girls, and Bessie was rather taken with them, but she was somewhat surprised when they opened their lips. She was walking across the grass with Florence, the tallest and prettiest of the sisters, and, indeed, she was rather a sweet-looking girl.
"Is it not a lovely day?" observed Bessie.
"Awfully jolly," replied Miss Florence, in a sharp, clipping voice; and the next minute Bessie heard her call one of her sisters a duffer for missing the ball.
"What would mother say?" thought Bessie. She was not much used to the typical girl of the period; after all, she was an old-fashioned little person.
The Athertons were really nice girls, although they talked slang like their brothers, and conformed to all the foolish fashions of the day, disguising their honest, womanly hearts under blunt, flippant manners.
"What a pity," said Bessie to herself, when she came to know them better. They were good-natured, clever girls, very fond of each other, and devoted to their mother and brothers. Reggie's examination—exam., Florence called it—for Sandhurst; Harold's new coach, and Bertie's score at cricket, were the theme of their conversation. "I am afraid Harold won't pass," observed Sabina sadly. "His last coach was such a muff, but the man he has got now seems a good old sort. Harold can get on with him comfortably."
"Well, what do you think of the girls?" asked Edna, when she and Bessie were left alone at the close of the afternoon.
"I think they are very nice, Florence especially, but it is such a pity that they talk slang; it seems to spoil them, somehow."
"I agree with you that it is bad style, but, you see, they have learned it from their brothers."
Bad style, that was all. Bessie's gentle-looking mouth closed firmly with the expression it always wore when politeness forbade her to air her true opinions, but in her own heart she was saying:
"Bad style. That is how worldly minded people talk. That is how they palliate these sins against good taste and propriety. I like these girls; they are genuine, somehow; but I suppose our bringing up has made us old-fashioned, for I seemed to shrink inwardly every time they opened their lips. Surely it must be wrong to lose all feminine refinement in one's language. There were no young men here, happily, to hear them; but if there had been, they would have expressed themselves in the same manner. That is what I cannot understand, now girls can lay aside their dignity and borrow masculine fashions. What a little lady Christine would have seemed beside them! Chrissy has such pretty manners."
The dinner hour passed more pleasantly than on the previous evening. Richard talked more, and seemed tolerably at his ease. He followed them into the drawing-room afterward, and asked his sister to sing, but, to Bessie's vexation, Edna declined under the pretext of fatigue, and could not be induced to open the piano. Bessie felt provoked by her wilfulness, and she was so sorry to see the cloud on Richard's face, for he was passionately fond of music, as he had informed Bessie at dinner-time, that she ventured to remonstrate with Edna.
"Do sing a little, just to please your brother; he looks so disappointed, and you know you are not a bit tired." But Edna shook her head, and her pretty face looked a little hard.
"I do not wish to please him; it is just because he has asked me that I will not sing a note this evening. I intend to punish Richard for his rudeness to me. I begged him to stay home for our garden party to-morrow; but no, he will not give up his stupid cricket. He says he is captain, and must be with his boys; but that is all nonsense; he does it to spite me."
"Oh, very well," returned Bessie good-humoredly, for she would not quarrel with Edna for her perversity. "If you mean to be so obdurate, I will sing myself." And Bessie actually walked across the room and addressed Richard, who was moodily turning over his sister's music.
"Edna does not feel inclined to sing to-night, but if you can put up with my deficiencies, I will try what I can do. My music is rather old-fashioned, but I know one or two pretty ballads, if you care to hear them."
"Thanks; I should like it very much," was all Richard said, as he opened the piano; but his face cleared like magic. It was not the song he wanted, but that some one should care to please him. All his life long this had been his longing; and the cold indifference with which his expressed wishes had always been met by his mother and Edna had chilled his affectionate nature. Bessie had a pretty voice, though it showed want of training, but she could sing a simple ballad with much sweetness and feeling, and Richard, who had a fine ear for music, avowed himself much pleased.
"You ought to have some good lessons," he said frankly. "Your voice has great capabilities, but it has not been properly trained. I hope you do not think my criticism rude."
"No, indeed; I am too much aware of my own faults. I have only had a few lessons. Miss James was not much of a teacher, but I cannot help singing somehow. Now, have I tired you, or do you want another song?"
"I want more than one," returned Richard, growing bold. Bessie's readiness to please, her good-humored reception of his criticism, charmed him. She was so amiable, so willing to be friendly; she was so different from the other girls who came to The Grange. Richard had no patience with them; their airs and graces, their evident desire for masculine admiration disgusted and repelled him. They seemed always seeking for him to pay them little compliments and attentions, and in his heart he despised them.
"Thank you, my dear," observed Mrs. Sefton graciously, when Bessie had finished. "She sings very nicely, does she not, Edna?"
"Charmingly," replied Edna; but her smile was hardly as pleased as usual, and she bade Bessie a somewhat cold good-night when they parted an hour later.
EDNA HAS A GRIEVANCE.
Bessie did not concern herself much about her friend's coldness. She had tried to atone to Richard for his sister's unkindness, and she had succeeded in giving one person pleasure.
"I dare say her conscience tells her that she has been naughty, and that makes her cross with me," thought Bessie, who was too healthy minded to harbor unnecessary scruples.
Hatty would have made herself wretched under the circumstances; would have accused herself of boldness, and love of display, and a want of consideration for Edna; for Hatty, who was a self-tormentor by nature, could spin a whole web of worries out of a single thread; but Bessie never troubled herself with morbid after-thoughts. "Edna will be all right with me to-morrow," she said to herself; and she was right in her prognostication.
Edna came downstairs the next morning radiant with good humor, and was even civil to Richard. It was a brilliant day; her friends had all accepted her invitation, and she was looking forward to a most enjoyable afternoon.
It was impossible for Bessie to resist the influence of her friend's gayety and flow of spirits. Edna's example was infectious, and Bessie was soon laughing heartily at her nonsensical speeches. There was no quiet for reading that morning. She had to practice tennis with Edna, and help her arrange the flowers; and finally she was carried off to be made smart.
"I wish you had a white dress, too," observed Edna regretfully; for in her heart she thought Bessie's favorite gray gown very dowdy and Quakerish. "But we must try to enliven you with a few flowers. You are going to wear a gray hat. Wait a moment." And Edna darted out of the room, and returned a moment afterward with a dainty cream lace fichu. "Look, this lace is lovely! Mamma gave it to me, but I never wear it now, and it will just suit you. Now let me fasten in a few of those creamy roses. Well, you do look nice after all, Daisy dear."
"Yes; but not half so nice as you," replied Bessie, looking with honest admiration at the pretty young creature. Edna's soft white dress just suited her fair hair and delicate complexion, and she looked so slim and graceful, as she stood before the glass fastening a rosebud at her throat, that Bessie said, involuntarily, "How nice it must be to be so pretty!" but there was no trace of envy in her tone.
Edna blushed a little over the compliment.
"Do I look pretty? Thank you, Bessie. Isn't it a pity Neville cannot see me?" and she laughed mischievously over her vain speech. "Now, come along, there's a dear, or the people will arrive before we are ready for them. There, I declare I hear Florence's voice!" And the two girls ran down and joined Mrs. Sefton in the drawing-room.
Well, it was a very pleasant garden party, and Bessie thoroughly enjoyed herself, though it was the grandest affair she had ever seen—so many people driving up in their carriages, and such smart footmen lingering in the hall, and a bevy of officers who were quartered in the neighborhood. But Bessie was not left out in the cold. Florence Atherton took her under her wing, and introduced some nice people to her. She even took part in one game when there was a vacancy, and her partner, a young lieutenant, was very good-natured, and only laughed when she missed the ball.
"We have won, after all, you see," he observed, when the match was over.
"Yes, thanks to you," replied Bessie honestly.
"Not at all. You played very well. Now shall we go and get an ice? I wonder what's become of Sefton? I don't see him anywhere."
"Oh, he is playing cricket at Melton. He is captain of the village club, I believe. I don't think he cares for tennis."
"I suppose not," was the dry rejoinder; but the young man slightly elevated his eyebrows in a meaning manner. Bessie heard other remarks on Richard's absence before the end of the afternoon. A young lady to whom she had been recently introduced addressed the same question to her.
"Mr. Sefton is not putting in an appearance this afternoon, Miss Lambert."
"No, I believe not; he is otherwise engaged."
"It is very odd," replied Miss Green significantly; "but Mr. Sefton always is engaged when his sister gives one of her parties. I am told he hates society, and that sort of thing. Isn't it a pity that he should be so different from Edna? She is a darling, and so charming, but her brother—" and here Miss Green shrugged her shoulders, and her keen black eyes seemed to demand Bessie's opinion; but Bessie made no rejoinder. She was not much prepossessed with Miss Green, and left her as soon as politeness allowed her, to sit with an old lady who was very chatty and amusing, and who called her "my dear" at every word.
It was no use trying to speak to Edna; she was always surrounded by a group of young people. Once or twice the thought crossed Bessie's mind, how Mr. Sinclair would like to see her laughing and talking so long with that handsome Captain Grant. She was not exactly flirting—Bessie would not do her that injustice—but she allowed him to pay her a great deal of attention. It struck her that Mrs. Sefton was uneasy, for she called her to her side once.
"My dear Miss Lambert, I cannot attract Edna's attention, and I want to speak to her particularly; she is somewhere in the shrubberies with that tall man with the dark mustache—Captain Grant. I spoke to her as she passed just now, but neither of them heard me."
"Shall I go and fetch her, Mrs. Sefton?"
"I shall be very glad if you will do so, my dear." And Bessie at once started in pursuit. She overtook them by the summer-house. Edna looked rather bored as she received her mother's message, though she at once obeyed it; but Captain Grant kept his place at her side.
Mrs. Sefton received him rather coldly.
"Edna," she said, addressing her daughter, "I want to speak to you about the Mackenzie's; they are sitting quite alone, and no one is talking to them; and that tall brother of their's has not played a single game."
"That is his own fault. I offered him Marian Atherton for a partner ages ago, but he plays badly; as for the girls, they keep aloof from everybody. I introduced Mr. Sayers and Major Sparkes to them, but they have evidently frightened them away. Mamma, are we engaged for Thursday? because Captain Grant wants us to go and see the officers play polo."
"That is the day I am going up to town, Edna."
"But you can put it off," she interposed eagerly. "It will be such fun. Mrs. Grant is to give us tea, and it will be such a treat for Bessie."
"My mother is counting upon the pleasure of seeing you all, Mrs. Sefton. She has been unable to call, but she is hoping to make your acquaintance in this way."
"She is very kind, Captain Grant," returned Mrs. Sefton stiffly; "but unfortunately, as my daughter knows, I have a very important engagement for that day."
"I am extremely sorry to hear it; still, if the young ladies care to drive over, my mother will chaperone them," persisted Captain Grant; "or perhaps their brother."
"Oh, of course! I forgot Richard," exclaimed Edna, disregarding her mother's evident objections.
Mrs. Sefton looked annoyed, but she said civilly:
"I will see what Richard thinks; but you must not take anything for granted, Edna, until I have spoken to him."
"Oh, I will tease him into taking us," returned Edna gayly. "I do love polo, and I am sure Bessie will be delighted. Now we must start another game, Captain Grant." And before her mother could interpose Edna had crossed the lawn with him.
"Shall you be very disappointed if you do not see polo, Miss Lambert?" asked Mrs. Sefton presently.
"No, indeed. But I am afraid Edna will be; she seems to have set her heart on going."
"Richard will not take her," returned Mrs. Sefton; "he has a strong objection to Captain Grant; and I must own I think he is right. He is very handsome, but he has not a straightforward look. I have no wish to see him intimate here. He is forward and pushing, and does not take a rebuff. But Edna does not agree with me," with a quick, impatient sigh.
Captain Grant's unfortunate invitation entirely marred the harmony of the evening. Directly the guests had left, the family sat down to a cold collation, instead of a regular dinner. Richard had only just come in and taken his place, declaring that he was as hungry as a hunter, when Edna informed him of their plans for Thursday.
"Mamma has to go up to town, so she cannot possibly go with us, and the carriage will have to fetch her from the station, so you must drive us over to Staplehurst in your dog-cart, Ritchie. I dare say Bessie will think that fun."
Richard glanced uneasily at his stepmother before he answered, as though he wished for her opinion, and she gave him a significant look.
"I am very sorry, Edna, but I am afraid it is impossible. I have to go over to Fordham on business, and I cannot possibly be back until six."
"On some stupid farming business, I suppose," returned Edna, and it was evident her temper could ill brook the contradiction. Her color rose, and there was an ominous sparkle in her eye; but Richard answered composedly:
"Yes; I have to meet Medway and Stephenson. I am sorry to disappoint you and Miss Lambert but Thursday is never a free day with me."
"No, indeed, nor any other day of the week when I want you to do anything," returned Edna, with rising excitement. "Now don't make any more excuses, Richard. Do you think I am a child to believe in your Medways and Stephensons? I saw you look at mamma before you answered, and you think she does not wish me to go."
"My darling, why need you excite yourself so?" exclaimed Mrs. Sefton.
"It is you that excite me, mamma, you and Richard. You have got some foolish notion in your heads about Captain Grant, just because the poor man is civil to me. You treat me, both of you, as though I were a baby—as though I could not be trusted to take care of myself. It is very unjust," continued Edna, "and I will not bear it from Richard."
"I confess I don't see the gist of your remarks," returned her brother, who was now growing angry in his turn; "and I don't think all this can be very amusing to Miss Lambert. If my mother has an objection to your keeping up an acquaintance with Captain Grant, it is your duty to give the thing up. In my opinion she is right; he is not the sort of friend for you, Edna, and his mother is disliked by all the officers' wives. I should think Sinclair would have a right to object to your frequent visits to Staplehurst."
But Edna was in no mood to listen to reason.
"Neville knows better than to state his objections to me," she returned haughtily; "and it is quite unnecessary to drag his name into the present conversation. I will only trouble you to answer me one question: Do you absolutely refuse to do me this favor, to drive Miss Lambert and me over to Staplehurst on Thursday?"
"I must refuse," returned Richard firmly. "It is quite true that my engagement can be put off, but it is so evident that my mother objects to the whole thing, that I will not be a party to your disobeying her wishes."
Edna rose from the table and made him a profound courtesy. "Thank you for your moral lecture, Richard; but it is quite thrown away. I am not going to be controlled like a child. If you will not take us, Bessie and I will go alone. I quite mean it, mamma." And Edna marched angrily out of the room.
"Oh, dear," observed Mrs. Sefton fretfully; "I have not seen her so put out for months; it must have been your manner, Richard. You were so hard on the poor child. Now she will go and make herself ill with crying."
"Did I misunderstand you?" asked Richard, astonished at this. "Did you wish me to take them, after all?"
"Of course not; what an absurd question! I would not have Edna go for worlds. Neville only said the other day how much he disliked the Grants, and how he hoped Edna kept them at a distance. I think he has heard something to Captain Grant's disadvantage; but you know how wilful she is; you might have carried your point with a little tact and finesse, but you are always so clumsy with Edna."
"You did not help me much," returned Richard rather bitterly. "You left me to bear the brunt of Edna's temper, as usual. Why did you not tell her yourself your reasons for disliking her to go? But, no; I am to be the scapegoat, as usual, and Edna will not speak to me for a week." And so saying he pushed his chair away and walked to the window.
Mrs. Sefton did not answer her stepson. Most likely her conscience told her that his reproach was a just one. She only glanced at Bessie's grieved face and downcast eyes, and proposed to retire.
The drawing-room was empty when they entered it, and as Bessie noticed Mrs. Sefton's wistful look round the room, she said timidly:
"May I go and talk to Edna?"
"No, my dear; far better not," was the reply. "Edna has a hot temper; she takes after her poor father in that. We must give her time to cool. I will go to her myself presently. She was very wrong to answer Richard in that way, but he has so little tact."
Bessie did not trust herself to reply. She took her book to the window, that her hostess might not find it incumbent on her to talk, and in a short time Mrs. Sefton left the room. Richard entered it a moment later.
"Are you alone?" he asked, in some surprise. "I suppose my mother has gone up to Edna?"
"Yes; she is uneasy about her. Shall I play to you a little, Mr. Sefton? It is getting too dark to read." Bessie made this overture as a sort of amends to Richard, and the friendly little act seemed to soothe him.
"You are very kind. I should like it of all things," he returned gratefully. So Bessie sat down and played her simple tunes and sung her little songs until the young man's perturbed spirits were calmed and quieted by the pure tones of the girlish voice; and presently when she paused for a minute, he said:
"It is awfully good of you to take all this trouble for me."
"Oh, no, it is not," replied Bessie, smiling. "I like singing; besides, you are feeling dull this evening; your talk with your sister has upset you."
"No one ever noticed before if I were dull or not," he replied, with a sigh; "but I am afraid that sounds ungracious. I think we owe you an apology, Miss Lambert, for airing our family disagreements in your presence. I am more sorry than I can say that you should have been subjected to this unpleasantness."
"Oh, never mind me," returned Bessie cheerfully. "I am only sorry for all of you. I dare say Edna did not mean half she said; people say all sorts of things when they are angry. I am afraid she is bitterly disappointed. I have heard her say before how fond she is of watching polo; but I dare say she will soon forget all about it."
"I cannot flatter myself with that belief. Edna does not so easily forget when her whims are crossed. I dare say she will send me to Coventry all the week; but I can't help that. Nothing would induce me to drive her over to Staplehurst, and she will hardly carry out her threat of going without me."
"Of course not," and Bessie fairly laughed.
"No, it was an idle threat; but all the same it is very vexatious." But Bessie would not let him dwell on the grievance. She began telling him about Tom, and a funny scrape he had got into last term; and this led to a conversation about her home, and here Bessie grew eloquent; and she was in the midst of a description of Cliffe and its environs when Mrs. Sefton reappeared, looking fagged and weary, and informed them that Edna had a headache and had retired to bed.
THE FIRST SUNDAY AT THE GRANGE.
The unfortunate dispute between Edna and her brother had taken place on Saturday evening, and as Bessie went up to her room that night she made up her mind that the first Sunday at Oatlands would be a failure, as far as enjoyment was concerned.
"I never can be happy myself unless I see others happy round me," thought Bessie, rather mournfully; "and Edna has taken this disappointment so badly that I am afraid she will make us all suffer for it." But in this opinion she was wrong. Her acquaintance with Edna had been brief, and she had no suspicion of the intense pride that blended with Edna's wilfulness, nor of the tenacity, strange in such a bright young creature, that could quietly maintain its purpose under a careless, light-hearted exterior.
Edna had evidently been ashamed of her outburst of temper on the previous evening, for she came down on Sunday morning looking a little pale and subdued, and very gentle in her manner to her mother and Bessie. She seemed to ignore Richard; beyond a cold good morning she did not vouchsafe him a word or a look; and as all his overtures toward reconciliation were passed over in chilling silence, he soon left her to herself.
They all went to church together, and as they walked through the lanes Edna seemed to recover her buoyancy. She laughed and chatted with her mother, and made sprightly speeches in her usual way; and no one could have judged from her manner that there was a spot of bitterness under the smooth surface—an angry consciousness that Richard had dared to cross her will.
Ah, well! there are many beside Edna who enter God's house with their darling sin hugged close to their bosom, fondled and cherished. Truly we may say we are miserable sinners, and that there is no health in us, for the black plague spot is often hidden under the white vesture, undetected by human insight, but clearly legible to the "Eye that seeth not as man seeth."
Once Bessie looked up from her hymn-book as Edna's clear, high notes reached her ear. Edna seemed singing with all her heart:
"Oh, Paradise! Oh, Paradise! Who does not crave for rest?"
Her brown eyes were soft with feeling, there was a sweet, almost angelic look upon her face; a passing emotion possessed her. Alas, that such moods should be transitory! And yet it has ever been so in the world's history. Unsanctified human nature is always fickle, and the "Hosanna" of yesterday become the "Crucify Him" of to-day.
After their early luncheon, Edna asked Bessie if she would go with her to see the Athertons.
"Mamma indulges in a nap on Sunday afternoons," she explained, "and as I am not fond of my own company, I run in and have a chat with the girls."
"If you would excuse me," returned Bessie, looking rather uncomfortable, "I would so much rather stay at home. You see, I have been accustomed to spend Sunday very quietly. We have never paid visits as some people do. Church and Sunday-school and a little sacred music and reading, and the day soon passes. If you do not mind, I would rather sit in the garden, or take a stroll through those lovely lanes, than go to the Athertons'."
Edna looked exceedingly amused at this speech, and at Bessie's hot cheeks.
"My dear Daisy, don't look so perturbed. This is Liberty Hall, and our guests always do exactly as they please. I would not interfere with your little prudish ways for the world. I do not require your company in the least. You may retire to your own room and read the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' with the blinds down, if you please, and mamma and I will not say a word. There's Blair's 'Sermons' in the attic, and Hervey's 'Meditations Among the Tombs.' They are a bit dusty, perhaps, but you won't object to that, for they are full of wholesome and cheerful reading."
"Thank you," returned Bessie, undisturbed by this light banter. "But I brought a book from home, in which I am much interested—'Bishop Hannington's Life'—and as you are so good as to spare me, I mean to explore some of those shady lanes; they are so nice and quiet."
Edna was about to make another mischievous rejoinder, but as she looked at Bessie she refrained. Bessie's contented, gentle expression, the quiet dignity that seemed to invest her girlishness, closed Edna's mouth.
"She is a good little thing, and I won't tease her," she thought. And she refrained with much magnanimity from one of her droll speeches when Maud Atherton asked where Miss Lambert was.
"She preferred taking a walk," returned Edna; which was the truth, but not the whole truth, for, as she said to herself, "those girls shall not have the chance of laughing at my dear little Bessie." And she cleverly changed the conversation to a safer topic; for she was quite a diplomatist in her small way.
"Edna is really very good-natured," thought Bessie gratefully, as she sauntered happily through the leafy lanes.
How delicious the air felt! It was June, and yet there was still the crispness of the spring. She felt as though she and the birds had this beautiful world to themselves, and the twitterings and rustlings in the thicket were the only sounds that broke the Sabbath stillness.
Bessie had just turned into a sunny bit of road when an abject-looking white dog with a black patch over his eye suddenly wriggled himself through a half-closed gate.
"Why, I do believe that is Bill Sykes," thought Bessie, as the creature stood looking at her. "Bill, what are you doing so far from home?" Bill wagged his tail feebly in a deprecating manner. "Why don't you walk like a gentleman?" continued Bessie, and, to her great amusement, the dog rose solemnly on his hind legs and commenced stalking down the lane. Bessie burst into a laugh that was echoed by another voice.
"Well done, old Bill." And, looking up, Bessie saw Richard Sefton leaning on the gate, with his dogs round him. "Don't move, Miss Lambert," he continued hastily; "stand where you are till I join you." And as Bessie looked rather surprised at this peremptory speech, he walked quickly to her side and put his hand on her shoulder. "A friend, Leo. Excuse my unceremoniousness, Miss Lambert, but Leo needs an introduction;" and at his words a huge mastiff, who had been eyeing Bessie in a dubious manner, walked quietly up to her.